It's time to take your doodles and scribbles and turn them into cash by selling your art online, and now it can be done without any cost to you at all. Do you like to draw? Paint? Did you know you can make money from your hobby and not be a professional artist?
Thanks to the internet and improvements in technology almost anyone can now self-publish their work, whether it is a book or a painting. One of the largest new markets being provided via the internet is Print On Demand, sometimes known as Publish On Demand (POD for short). To put it simply, POD is when a manufacturer brings the raw material (paper, coffee mug, shirt, etc) and you provide the content (writing, painting, graphic, etc. Some POD suppliers even provide an online store or gallery for you to sell from, some which are provided free while others will charge a very small monthly fee. They handle the product manufacturing, shipping, and billing, but it is up to you to create the content and to manage the marketing.
While setting up my own art store, PackRat Graphics at Zazzle, I did a lot of the same research you are probable working on now. By sharing some of the information I collected in this blog, I hopefully will save you some time and frustration. I am going to assume you already know how to do the media of your choice, but how do you get it on the computer and on the internet for others to see and buy?
Where to sell your art online?
While there are a lot of different Print On Demand publishers available, during my research I narrowed my choices down to RedBubble, Imagekind, Zazzle, and CafePress. I am not going to do a pro and con comparison of the available POD publishers; others have already done this and have done a much better analysis than I could. But if you want to see numbers try the following review website, Art Business Advice
Each Print On Demand service has their own particular strengths and weaknesses, and are targeted to different crowds, markets, and artists. But for fine art prints RedBubble and ImageKind have already established themselves has the leaders of that particular market. These two are well established art communities, with a large number of members and very good internet traffic rates, but I was looking to hit a wider market share than just "fine art" and I personally tend to lean more towards Graphic Design rather than traditional fine art. I finally settled on Zazzle. Zazzle and CafePress both provide other types of products than just fine art prints, but Zazzle gives you a full unlimited gallery with as many products as you can design, for free. CafePress is better known, but for a full gallery or store you need to pay about $ 7 a month. But I was interested in the challenge of starting an online business for as little cost as possible so I went with Zazzle. I may open up a CafePress store some time in the future to test it out.
Once you decide on what type of artwork you will be selling, and what market you want to target it should be easier to narrow down your choices of which POD distributor you will be using.
Get your art on your computer
Ok, now that you know WHERE and WHAT YOU are going to sell, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO GET IT? Here's a checklist of stuff you will need.
* computer (if I did not list it someone would point it out)
* internet connection
* photo editing program
Since you are reading this the computer and internet connection requirements are already taken care of, so that only leaves one thing, a photo editing program.
A lot of people think PhotoShop when they read "photo editing program", and if you already have it that's great, you are good to go. And I'm sorry, but I do not count Microsoft Paint as editing program. So let's keep this to the theme of the blog and examine some alternatives.
My number one recommendation is GIMP. I use it more than I do Photoshop Elements. GIMP and PhotoShop Elements each have their strong points, and are useful for different things. GIMP can be a little confusing at first, since the program operates via "blocks", separate windows depending on the function. For example the toolbox, image, and layers will all be in their own separate windows. Requires some minimizing and maximizing at times but since it's free it's worth the cost. It is even compatible with a tablet and pen if you want to paint or draw directly on the computer.
If GIMP seems a little intimidating or complex, a simpler alternative is Paint.NET. Using it is pretty self explanatory. If you are interested in vector graphics like Corel Draw, a free alternative is Inkscape. Even if you do not intend to produce commercial products with it, its still fun just to play around with.
With this collection of programs, you can do just about everything someone else can do with PhotoShop whenever you are photo editing or creating computer graphics from scratch, but at least you still have some money left.
* digital camera
These are listed as optional since it depends on what media you are working in. Neither one is needed obviously if you are concentrating strictly on computer graphics. But if your media is painting or sketching, you will need access to one or the other. If you plan on just doing a few art pieces, it would be cheaper to pay a service to scan them (Wal-mart, Kinkos, etc). But since I believe you should create digital backups of any serious work of art anyway, I consider this as a cost of living an expense and not a business expense. And the need for a digital camera is again dependent on what media you are working in and of course your ability to use it.
HERE I have already compiled a larger list of free and open source programs that I believe are useful to have. And if you are interested in expanding into 3D graphics, HERE is an introductory article I wrote that may provide some useful information. Both of these links are to pages on my website PackRat Graphics.com.
Is that all it takes to sell art online?
So by now you should have your POD picked out, some editing programs, and you have your art creations. So now is it just log in, upload your work, post your products, and you're done? Is it time to sit back, relax, and wait for the money to come in after all your hard work creating your art?
Nope, sorry, you are not even half way done. The internet is unbelievably HUGE, and your gallery or product page is a tiny little speck on the World Wide Web. No one is going to know about your work unless you tell them. Some PODs do some of the work for you by getting your gallery to show up in a search engine, but that's only if someone searches for the exact name of your gallery or shop page. Hopefully this is not where you drop off the hook when I tell you creating your art is barely half the work involved. You can, and probably will, spend more than half of your "business time" marketing and networking, and not doing the enjoyable stuff like painting or drawing.
Are you still there? Good.
The marketing and networking side of an internet business is going to be something you need to do, whether you have put money into your online business or not. For Print On Demand products, there are some specialized marketing strategies just for this. For example Zazzle is partnered with Facebook allowing for what is called a Merch Store application to be used to promote your stuff. Java applications can be put on your MySpace page, blog, or website to show off your stuff (just do not Spam on MySpace or Facebook, that's rude and will get your MySpace account suspended).
CafePress also has some affiliated applications for both of these social networking sites. And some of the POD communities have, on their own, put together and established separate websites strictly for promoting that particular POD designers and artists.
The larger POD communities work together in promoting each other, even rewarding you for referrals. So do not be all Me! Me! Me! Imagine getting paid when it is not even your product that sold because you provided a link to SOMEONE ELSE's work on your gallery, website, or blog. So get active in your POD's communities, make friends, socialize, and start building your network. It takes time so I'm telling you now, do not expect huge changes overnight.
It is going to be up to you just how much time you spend on marketing, but always consider that marketing is one of those activities that you only get out what you put in. A little effort = little reward, a lot of effort = lots of reward. There are several strategies you can do to help get you exposure.
Blogs – for now it is shown that blogs are IT when it comes to exposure and promotion. There are a variety of free blog providers available, and if you decide to make a blog for marketing and marketing you are going to have to learn something called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is one of those things that determine whether you are on the front page of a search or on page 120. The blogs with good SOE are near the front and are the ones that get all the traffic. And in internet marketing traffic is the Number 1, end-all be-all goal. Even a stick man drawn with a crayon will sell if it has enough traffic and enough people see it. For learning SEO and applying it to blogs I have not found a better place than reading almost everything this guy writes; Blogger Basics
He also provides some good tips on where and how to start promoting your blog, with various article registration sites and link exchanges. The following are other sites you might consider incorporating into your marketing mix.
Squidoo – is very similar to a blog, but seems more centered around shopping, business promotion, and money earning, and that's exactly what you want. They even have modules to incorporate into your lens, Amazon, eBay, de.icou.us, etc. Your webpage there is called a lens, and not only can you promote your own products but others as well. The more related content you have on your lens the better chance you have of showing up in a search.
Spynbuy – is a social selling site. Think of it as the yellow pages of online business, but besides using regular text ads you can do picture and even video ads of your products.
Thisnext.com – A website for discovering, recommending, sharing, and promoting products. Kind of like Digg but for products. Also allows for shopcasting on your website or blog.
Research Product Related promotion / shopping sites – there are several shopping sites that are product centric, whether it's t-shirts or fine art.
Digg and Stumbleupon – if it's compatible with your gallery, at the very least install it on your blog or lens if you have one, it will not hurt.
Google base – one of the first things I would suggest is to see if your POD gallery and products are Google base compatible (allows for the use of RSS Feeds). By registering a feed into Base you are inputting your products directly into Google Product Search. It also provides reports on how often your product shows in a search, and if the searcher clicked on your product (s). Very useful for determining which are your "dead" products and which are your active products in case you have gallery size or storage issues. The product searches are based upon the attributes you attach to your product. Attributes, or keywords, help search bots identify what type of product you have and where to put it in a search.
Example, for fantasy painting of a dragon the keywords or attributes could be;
fantasy dragon mythological medieval "dragon art" "dragon illustration"
"fantasy creatures" etc …..
It is very important to keep your attributes related, search bots are smart and will flag your product as Spam and not list it if you over do it or exaggerate on the keywords. Google Base has an excellent Help Section that can help you set up your product feed correctly, or see your POD's forums.
The Website Owner Zone – Free social network for web owners to make friends while learning to increase traffic, SEO, exchanging links / banners, making money and more.
And these are just a tiny portion of some of the marketing strategies and mixes that are available free on the internet. Just keep in mind the market you are targeting and adjust your promotions accordingly.
* PayPal – especially useful if you live outside the United States and your POD is in the US This way you can avoid the exchange charge by your local bank.
* RSS feeds – feeds allow for repeat visitors to your sites / blogs. Repeat business is Good! Even if the visitor does not purchase anything the first 25 times that they come to your site, they may purchase something on the 26th time. And even those non-purchasing visits are useful to you; it shows to search engines that your site is active and in-use.
* Email – simply a useful business organizational concept. Set up a free email account under your business / gallery's name. Even if you do not have a real life business and are just doing this for fun, the separate email account is very useful for keeping your business email and account activities separate from your personal life.
* EBay – a lot of PODs are not directly compatible with incorporating into EBay, but if you want to go through the trouble you can purchase your own product, then turn around and post it on EBay, if for anything good advertisement.
* I will list more tips or tricks as I discover them.
As you can see marketing and networking can take up a lot of your time and effort. 2/3 of this article is about those two subjects, with only a third on how and where you can sell your art.
Selling your art on the web will reward you with exactly what you put into it. The more you market and network, the better chance you have of making a sale. But after that first sale you may end up spending all of your spare time thinking of new ways to market your product and how to get it noticed so you can get more sales. Be warned though that the first sale may not happen for weeks, or it may happen the very first day. But there is nothing like the feeling of knowing someone was willing to pay money for something YOU made.
If you have any questions or would like something from above clarified I will do my best to provide an answer or more information as needed.
Sell your art online; make money doing something you enjoy, all without having to spend money to do it, how can it get any better than that?